DNA testing has become something of a trend over the past several years, so I’m not surprised that it comes up so often in discussions about ancestor veneration. But how accurate and useful are DNA tests, anyway? Can they contribute to a spiritual practice like ancestor veneration?
Caveat: I’m not a geneticist, and I’m not an expert on DNA testing services. There are some really good guides to DNA testing (like this one) that can tell you more about its practical pros and cons than I can. And when picking a company to do genetic testing through, make sure you read the fine print: some DNA testing services have terms in place that allow them to store and even sell your genetic data.
What I want to focus on is: once you have this information, will it help you develop your ancestor veneration practice?
DNA testing can inspire self-reflection
DNA testing can be a great starting point if you don’t have much information about your family of origin. If you were adopted or currently aren’t in touch with your family of origin, a DNA test can be a helpful reminder that you have have a history. It also gets satisfying results faster than traditional genealogical research, which is really the work of a lifetime.
One thing that I love about DNA testing is how many people have discovered through it that their ancestry is much more diverse than they knew! It can be profoundly healing to see how interconnected we are as human beings.
But DNA testing won’t give you the full picture
You only inherited 50% of each of your parents’ DNA. For this reason, you and your sibling could both take a DNA test and receive completely different results. That inaccuracy compounds over time. Your mother only inherited 50% of your maternal grandparents’ DNA, and so on and so forth. So DNA testing will only allow you to peer back into the past by about six generations.
The other thing to keep in mind is, DNA doesn’t capture cultural inheritance. What if one of your ancestors immigrated to a different region and raised their children there, speaking the local language and assimilating into the local culture? What if one of your ancestors was adopted and grew up in a community they weren’t genetically related to? What if one of your ancestors was raised by a step-parent or another person they weren’t genetically related to? In these cases, there may be a discrepancy between genetic and cultural inheritance. Both of them are important to the formulation of identity, so both of them are important for understanding the ancestral line.
So, while getting your DNA tested is a great way to find inspiration, it’s not gospel. It certainly shouldn’t automatically override any understanding you have of who you are and how you are connected to your family and cultures.
The verdict: Treat DNA testing like divination
Have you ever had your tarot cards read or talked to an astrologer about your natal chart? These are examples of divination, the art of discovering hidden knowledge. Maybe after you got your reading, you had a lot of clarity and excitement about what you had learned. Maybe, it took you a while to understand the contents of the reading, but once you wrapped your head around it you found the information valuable. Or maybe it was total bunk and you forgot it all the next day.
No matter what your experience was like, you had to apply your spiritual discernment to the information being shared with you. Did it resonate with you immediately or after you took some time to process it? Good! Did you say “to hell with this” and make your own fate instead? Also good. That means you’re in touch with your core values.
The truth is, there’s no middleman between you and your ancestors. No high priest, no scientist in a lab coat, no academic, and not even your own parents get to stand between you and your ancestral line. You already made a pact directly with them to enter this world through their bodies. There’s nothing more intimate than that. So don’t let anyone pretend like they can come between you and your ancestors.
Plus, there are other ways of understanding your ancestors beyond what’s in your DNA. Clearly there’s traditional genealogical research methods, like interviewing living family members and flipping through government and church records. There’s getting to know one’s ancestors through their culture: visiting their homelands, eating their foods, listening to their musics, and dancing their dances. And there’s also the knowledge that comes to us through the subtle senses: your dreams and intuitions, the synchronicities you observe. Sometimes, these emotional truths can be more valuable to us as spiritual beings than names, dates, and percentages. But ideally, you want to compare data from all sorts of sources in order to form the fullest picture possible.
Remember: the information you need about your ancestors will come to you when you need it. When they need to send you a message, they’ll find a way to do so. It was true in my life, and I’ve seen it happen for many other people on their own paths. Once you make a deliberate choice to start honoring your ancestors, you’ll see how information about who they were starts to find you!